Earthworm ecology and applied technology in landscape tree soils

2006 | Eric Wiseman, Virginia Tech

Soil compaction is a pervasive limitation to landscape tree performance. Compaction adversely affects soil bulk density, pore size distribution, and structure. These changes negatively impact root growth, form, and function. Many techniques have been used to remediate soil compaction around established landscape trees. Collectively, compaction remediation treatments are marginally effective. Moreover, it is unclear whether treatment benefits are sustained on a long-term basis. Under natural conditions, both abiotic and biotic processes sustain favorable soil conditions. Earthworms play a key role in the genesis and maintenance of soil structure. As they feed, earthworms incorporate organic matter deep into the soil profile. This stimulates decomposition by microorganisms and soil aggregation. In addition, earthworm burrows form an extensive network of macropores that promote aeration and water infiltration. Soil disturbances common to urban landscapes can diminish earthworm populations. In the absence of earthworms, soil structure may be slow to recover in disturbed landscapes. Moreover, low earthworm abundance may limit the long-term benefits of compaction remediation treatments.  Numerous agronomy and land reclamation studies have demonstrated the utility of earthworm introduction for improving soil conditions. Little is known about earthworm ecology in urban soils for their potential utility in compaction remediation efforts around established landscape trees. The objectives of the proposed research are: (1) to characterize earthworm abundance in landscape tree soils (2) to determine if earthworm populations can be augmented through introduction, (3) to determine if earthworm introduction alters soil properties, and (4) to determine if earthworm introduction benefits landscape trees.

Year: 2006

Funding Duration: 1-3 years

Grant Program: John Z Duling

Grant Title: Earthworm Ecology and Applied Technology in Landscape Tree Soils

Researcher: Eric Wiseman

Key words: soil compaction; remediation; earthworms; soil structure;

Peer Reviewed Publications from Grant: none

General Audience/Trade Publications: none


Gift, D. M., and P. E. Wiseman. (2009). Earthworms in the urban environment: can population augmentation help improve urban forest performance? Oral presentation at: Connecting Ecological Research and Restoration Practice: Joint Conference of the Mid-Atlantic Chapters of the Society for Ecological Restoration International and the Ecological Society of AmericaView the Presentation >

For more information on this project, contact the researcher via TREE Fund at